There’s something unique about Vermont and the people who live here. From the sixth-generation Vermonter to the back-to-the-lander to the transplant, there’s a mindset that is somehow different from that found in other areas of the country. And while it’s hard to define exactly, CCV instructor Robert Mandatta and his students are creating a repository through which we can all glean a better understanding of what it is that makes Vermont Vermont.
“We are actually creating a Vermont psychology that is unique to the Green Mountains,” Mandatta said. “If you go through these articles and read them you will see Vermont as it is today, in every facet.”
Mandatta, who has taught psychology classes through CCV’s Center for Online Learning since 2002, is the creator and editor of the website Vermont Psychology. When he started teaching online he recognized the potential that the internet held for creating a course that would enhance student learning through the use of rich media, i.e. video, illustration, text, and audio, but he learned quickly that the existing technology and the online resources weren’t quite up to the task.
About a decade later things had changed and Mandatta was selected to develop an Introduction to Psychology course in which only free, open-source materials would be used. Noting that textbooks are “a mile wide and an inch deep,” Mandatta said this new online course model added a dynamism to his classes that allowed his students to move from a confined learning style to one that took advantage of multiple intelligences. The result was a flood of solid, multimedia-based, scholarly research into Vermont psychology. But there was a problem.
“The learning was really dynamic and they were creating their own multimedia presentations on topics about Vermont,” he said. “And then all of it would go down the tubes; every term it would just disappear. And so I think it was in the fall of 2013 that I said ‘I can’t. I just can’t let these go anymore.’ So I created Vermont Psychology.”
Shortly thereafter Mandatta began reaching out to students and asking if they’d be interested in submitting their work for inclusion in this new project. Now, less than two years since the site launched, the Topsham-based psychology instructor and journal editor has published just under 30 research projects, which are organized into the three categories of Vermont Children, Vermont Leaders, and Vermont Communities.
Mandy Snyder grew up in Norwich, VT and is currently a personal chef and dance and movement instructor. She enrolled in Mandatta’s class to investigate whether returning to college for another degree would be a good option for her. During that process, she was tapped to submit work to Vermont Psychology. Her two published works explore mindfulness education for Vermont children and leadership styles as demonstrated by grassroots organizer and leader Andrea Stander.
Snyder said she was honored to be asked to submit her work, and feels that Mandatta’s new online project is a rich resource for understanding the ever-evolving ethos of Vermonters. Regarding her profile of Stander, she said research that blends scientific concepts with familiar faces and ideas is a good platform for students to learn from and also for reaching and educating readers.
“I think folks are hungry for science that’s relatable, that they can apply to their life,” Snyder said. “So in the class, mixing the social science we’re learning with something that’s based in our state, that’s relatable, or maybe it’s about someone we may know or have heard of, I think it provides deeper context and different viewpoint.”
Tabitha Clews is nursing student at Norwich University and an employee at the White River Junction VA Medical Center who took Mandatta’s class as a prerequisite for her degree. She said she was surprised when Mandatta asked her if she’d submit her research work on veterans and post traumatic stress disorder for publication, noting that she didn’t think the work was particularly outstanding. Mandatta, however, said her work on PTSD is some of the best he’s seen.
Clews’ research, “PTSD and Our Veterans,” investigates the causes and symptoms of the condition, and the frequency of stressors that can lead to PTSD as they occurred in members of the Army and Marine Corps who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. By combining videos and traditional research with the transcript of an interview with a Vermont veteran, Clews provides us with a much deeper understanding of what life is like for this segment of Vermont’s population. That, Clews said, feels odd and good at the same time.
“It’s weird to know that someone might be using my work, but it’s also rewarding to think that my research could help someone find answers to a problem they might be dealing with,” Clews said.
Site traffic varies widely from a handful of visitors on some days to significant spikes on others, but that’s not the point, Mandatta said. Rather, Vermont Psychology is a platform for students such as Snyder, Clews, and the other featured writers to learn media literacy, share their findings, and be recognized for producing scholarly work worthy of publication.
Perhaps just as importantly, though, is the benefit Vermont Psychology provides Vermonters, and outsiders, seeking to better understand the people and communities of the Green Mountain State.
“The focus is mostly on making Vermont healthier, or exploring how it is already healthy and how to keep it that way, and how to help people who are marginalized in Vermont society,” Mandatta said.